Saturday, February 19, 2011

A Personal Reflection Shared

I had something odd happen to me this week. Two people, independently of each other, came to me to apologize. Each time when they said, 'I want to apologize,' I struggled to think what they needed to apologize for. But I encouraged each of them to sit and talk. In my job I have to make several important decisions in a day. I like, as much as possible, for those decisions to be informed with as much information as possible and for those who are closest to the situation to be very involved in the decision making process. Both people apologizing to me had come to talk through a situation and each of them had a proposed solution. In both cases, after reviewing the situation I had to decide on an option that they had not considered, in doing so I explained how I could understand their point of view but there were other things that needed to be brought in to help make the decisions.

In each case, there was lively and productive discussion, in each case we came to a consensus and the final decision was one that each supported and would be able to defend with their teams. I had thought it had gone well. I loved the discussion, I love respectful disagreement, I love earnest debate. Being challenged to explain what I am thinking and to reveal the process by which I make a decision, is good for me. It makes sure that I don't get caught in decision ruts. I have strong people on my team, they have sharp minds and are all becoming leaders in their own right. I don't like working with wishy washy people who just hand over the reigns of decision making to me. I don't learn then. I don't grow.

But because we had come to a different approach than what they came in with, each was afraid that I had lost respect for them as individuals. They each thought that I would trust them less in the future. They were worried that they had lost status in my eyes. The first time it happened, when the first of the two came in to apologize, I joked about how I must be awfully overbearing if they were worried about how I'd react to them. My respect grew, it certainly wasn't diminished. I thought that the whole interchange had been good and healthy. The second time it happened, I began to wonder about the very nature of the 'supervisor' relationship and the power that rests in my hands.

Each of these two individuals, as different from each other as they are, as different as the situations were, understood the hierarchical relationship we have with each other. As much as I try to deny it, it's there and it's real. They took a risk coming in to me and having debate and discussion and disagreement. The process to me was an exciting one, one that called upon the best of me. The process for them was a risky one, one that call upon the most courageous part of them. I need to remember that. I need to be constantly encouraging for open discussion - I make better decisions when people bring in to meetings what they really feel. I leave discussions where new points of view are brought to bear on issues with clearer perspective. I even find, sometimes, that I've made a wrong decision because of the habit of my history. New perspectives make 'old Dave' stay up to date a current.

I am thankful I work with young people who have keen minds and who have the courage to challenge me. I am my best when they are at their best. I just need to make sure that they leave these interchanges feeling safe. Certainly not feeling that they have to apologize to me. Managing people is one thing, managing power is another.

Later, when Joe came to pick me up, I got in the car and he said, 'I've got to apologize for something ...'

You know, I've got to really look at how I am presenting myself these days.


Cynthia F. said...

Thanks for this Dave - good food for thought for those of us who are both managers and managed. The more I need my job, the less I've felt free to disagree with my boss - and I want to make sure I'm not promoting that same culture with the staff I'm supervising and helping to develop and grow in their jobs.

Anonymous said...

Is nice to hear that they all (Joe included) felt comfortable enough in you and themselves to do this....more often then not I find people just let things go and dont engage in such processes as you mentioned. Sounds like very productive stuff happened for both you and them. Thaks again.

theknapper said...

My take on it was they wanted to ck out if the relationship had changed and discovered it had not and if it did, it grew stronger. Many supervisers say all the right things about collaboration but don't always walk the walk.I think their willingness to ck it out speaks well.....they didn't tuck it away with the uncertainties of was that really ok.